Understand Brussels to better defend it!

The Atelier de Recherche et d’Action Urbaines (ARAU) was founded in 1969, at a time when many residents were moving out of the centre of Brussels to the outer suburbs, and when many historic buildings were being demolished and replaced with offices and new main roads. ARAU played an active role in the urban planning struggles of the 1970s, and has done so ever since, as a fervent defender of the city’s residents and of renovation and conversion instead of demolition. For over 50 years, ARAU has argued in favour of more public debate and transparency in the urban planning process. Our major objective in 1969 is still relevant today: to promote Brussels as a good-quality place to live, for every resident! We have worked towards this objective by conducting many analyses, issuing press releases, hosting discussions, producing counter-proposals and by organising an ever-evolving programme of guided tours for individuals and groups. We organised our first, pioneering guided tour in 1977, and have since developed a variety of guided tours as tools for raising awareness of urban environmental heritage. Our guided tours give participants an understanding of the city’s heritage assets and develop a critical view of their transformation over the years.

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Architecture

Brussels has an extraordinarily rich and diverse architectural heritage. The gilded Baroque style of the buildings around the Grand’Place reminds us of the city’s glorious past. The Royal District is one of the most beautiful Neo-Classical ensembles ever built. Brussels is the “Capital of Art Nouveau” due to its many buildings in this distinctive style designed by Victor Horta, Paul Hankar and their disciples. In the inter-war years (1918-1939) Brussels did not miss out on the new Art Deco style, and is home to several iconic buildings in this style that are well worth a detour. Our “Architectures” guided tours reveal extraordinary buildings in every district of the city and place them in their historical contexts. 

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Brussels in districts

The development of the city and region of Brussels cannot be dissociated from that of the 19 communes and their hundred-or-so districts. From villages that have expanded from their centres, to planned new suburbs, these districts developed in a wide variety of heritage contexts, which ARAU will help you appreciate, along with their urban planning and architectural specificities. And, as thriving urban democracies all begin at a local level, these guided tours will include time for discussion at the end about current proposals with the local residents who will be affected by them. An opportunity to understand our heritage environment and also the urban-planning processes, so as to be better equipped to take action in our own districts and for the city!

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The city in transformation

ARAU has built on its analyses of urban development projects over more than 50 years to create these politically engaged and well-documented guided tours, that offer opportunities to critically unpick current urban planning projects, ranging from (re)conversion to (re)construction, and including debates on types of use for buildings and their impacts on the daily lives of residents. The routes followed show participants the issues around renovation projects and question their impacts on the city as a place to live. The guided tours travel around buildings or public spaces with outstanding heritage value. They aim to enrich the debate about the urban development of Brussels and offer an engaged reading of the city’s ever-evolving history. 

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Summer trails

ARAU now offers a new programme of short guided tours to make the most of long summer evenings in Brussels. Our guides have prepared ten new guided tours of areas off the beaten track in French and in English. These concentrated guided tours offer opportunities to discover less-well-known places and unusual themes: to be enjoyed without restraint the whole summer long!

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Must-sees

The buildings around the Grand’Place of Brussels, described as a “marvel” by the French writer Victor Hugo, have just undergone a comprehensive renovation that has restored all their splendour. Art Nouveau, a style conceived in the minds of a handful of genius designers, reminds us that Brussels was at the forefront of the artistic avant-garde at the end of the nineteenth century. The European district is home to some of the most important EU institutions: the Commission, the Council of Ministers, the Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, placing it at the beating heart of the EU. These three unmissable guided tours examine each of these themes in depth.

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Public or private tours